As the year ends with a strangely timed World Cup, an enforced winter break has given our beleaguered troops time to recuperate and no doubt dwell on the first 45% of the season.
It’s a season that has certainly had quite the paradox about it: we sit mid-table, which nobody would have expected, yet it can also be viewed as a disappointment in part considering the start we made, and yet also not, because of the predicament that we are in financially and considering that the squad has been put together like Trigger’s Broom – it’s Reading, just not the same one as we had last year, or the year before that.
We all knew the form at the start of the season could not be sustained, yet the drop-off before the away win at Hull City displayed all the bad hallmarks of last season before Paul Ince came on board. If Carlsberg could have invented a winter break then it certainly came at the best of times, on the back of a win to arrest a nasty slide.
We have also witnessed a fresh viewpoint from the fans. In the main most have been sanguine about the entire shenanigans of the club as a whole. Ever since Velkjo Paunovic left the club, the fans have become more united as the recognition that it’s better to have a club than no club at all came into view.
That and the days of berating the team for needing to be better than this and accepting the faults made by the owner, appreciating the changes instead that have been made off the field by messrs Bowen, Ince and Carey. Getting behind the team has led to a much better atmosphere. Huge strides have been made to reconnect the fans to the players, too.
Yet, with the club still not out of the woods financially, as seen this week with the late payment of wages to staff and players, it is clear to see that we’re still very much wounded, if recovering slowly. We are still under an embargo from the EFL and until that is lifted, we are limping rather than striding over the magical line of 50 points.
As is customary the Championship is as the Championship does; anyone can beat anyone on their day. As it stands, Reading sit two points from the play-off zone, yet only six from the relegation trap door. Only 11 points separate the play-offs to the very bottom of the table. A good or bad run either way could lead to pain or glory. Pure madness.
For Reading, we hope that our better days are still to come. With players returning to bolster the defensive positions mainly, this could help. That said, with these new players returning they will need time to bed in and find their match fitness and feet in a new formation. Will Liam Moore fit in at all? What kind of reception will he receive? Will his return be a bonus or divisive? Having a new defence still may have its challenges, whatever form it may take.
In front of the defence, the midfield has been relatively solid but still lacks that extra something. That something should be Ovie Ejaria but the magical feet that we once saw from the last signing we paid money for seems like a distant memory. If Paul Ince can get a tune out of Ovie he could be the answer to our creative needs, but for whatever reason it’s just not there. It’s not for a want of effort, nobody can say that Ovie isn’t trying, but the joy has been sucked out of his game.
Otherwise, the midfield will largely stay the same. Sam Hutchinson may feature there more than in defence, even Tom McIntyre or Amadou Mbengue could feature as a defensive midfielder too. We have plenty of options defensively, but offensively, midfield remains an issue.
At the business end it’s pretty much as you were with the rotation of Andy Carroll, Lucas Joao, Shane Long and Yakou Meite. Femi Azeez is returning to fitness but at this point it is difficult to see how he would fit as he has previously been deployed as a right-winger, but he could be an asset off the bench to stretch the opposition defence.
If there are any moves to be made in the January window then an addition of a player with pace higher up the pitch would be a plus. None of the attacking players we have are truly blessed with pace after all.
Should this be enough to see us through? Maybe? Probably? It depends on the camp you sit in. Some will see us as being a side that will flirt with the top half of the table, while others will think we don’t have enough variation in the squad to keep us away from the relegation zone. The squad numbers may now be up to the level that we need, but are there enough goals in it?
For the early part of the season, we made a lovely habit of getting a lead and holding onto it for dear life. There’s no reason on the surface of it to think that we can’t return to our glorious days of sh*thousing our way to victory. That could well be our mode to success again. We know that blasting teams out of sight isn’t viable, so why not again? If defensively we’ve got the bodies to cope, then putting 11 men behind the ball could be just the ticket. As we have shown in many of the wins, it doesn’t have to be pretty. Points win prizes!
For all its flaws, the World Cup has come at the right time for Reading FC. The break in Tenerife will have created new bonds, reinforced others and legs will have been rejuvenated to a degree. Coventry City are our next visitors and they are on a rich vein of form (having being bottom of the table not so long ago and not conceded away from home in five!) This will not be a walk in the park and nor will the remainder of the 55% of the gruelling task ahead.